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(78:12, Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Collective Action 10:16 2. The Garden of Happy Cows 9:40 3. Xarramandusca 11:36 4. Good Luck My Friend 1:45 5. Angioma 3:50 6. Scalpel 0:45 7. Hemangioma 3:09 8. Introduction to Sidewalk Licker 2:37 9. Sidewalk Licker 8:00 10. Imperfect Purity 4:15 11. Pure and Imperfect Art Element 6:21 12. Imperfect Persuasive Element 2:40 13. The Sea and Later the Sun and the Reflection 13:18 LINEUP: Marc Capel – organ, el. pianos, synthesizers Dimitiris Bikos – fretless bass Natsuko Sugao – trumpet The-Hien Trinh – trombone Alfonso Munoz – saxophones Vasco Gomes – drums, percussion With: Guillem Serra – French horn (1, 2, 5, 6, 7) Pablo Selnik – flute (9 to 13) &: Two more saxophonists
Prolusion. The Spanish ensemble PLANETA IMAGINARIO reliably releases one album every four years, each succeeding one considerably lengthier than its predecessor. Comprised of thirteen tracks, “Optical Delusions” is their third outing, the other two being “Biomasa” from 2008 and “Que Me Dices” from 2004.
Analysis. The title of this all-instrumental album instantly calls up that of the piece concluding its predecessor, Optical Delusions of a Bipolar Bear, a multi-stylistic monster deploying both Rock- and Metal-In-Opposition, Zeuhl and a few other genres as its components (all of which are in evidence on the group’s debut effort as well). There’s nothing of the kind here, however, as the ensemble – which no longer includes a guitar player – has refrained from almost all its initial musical influences in favor of just one, Jazz-Fusion, although quasi-symphonic Art-Rock still retains its significance in places. Anyhow, most of the music is fairly deep and is fully structured, skillfully executed by each of the band’s six members (along with a couple of guest musicians in most cases). The three tracks that the album begins with, Collective Action, Xarramandusca and The Garden of Happy Cows, run for 31+ minutes, and are all glaringly progressive. If the first two of them contain more jazz-rock arrangements than quasi-symphonic ones, more frequently evoking Return To Forever or Weather Report than National Health or Camel (at its jazziest, circa “Moonmadness”), the latter works the other way round, often bringing to mind early ‘70s Van Der Graaf Generator, exploring a ‘dark matter’ with a unique juxtaposition of symphonic and jazzy features, at times fully eliminating the border between the genres. The last two of the pieces each also has some free jazz- and space fusion-evoking moves respectively, and as to the former ones, this is the only place on the album for a wild freak-out with solos coming in from seemingly every direction. The instrumentation in all cases combines a fine, rich balance of electric (pianos, organ and bass) and acoustic (trumpet, trombone, saxophones and drums) sounds, spread out over the sonic palette in such a way that each musician has his own space for maneuver within while still interacting with the others. All of the players are skilful, and while the brass ones more often provide unison and related leads than differently vectored ones, evoking Joe Zawinul & Co in places, keyboardist Marc Capel provides sharp interjections which, depending on the situation (so to speak), are similar to Chick Corea or Dave Stuart or Pete Bardens – when he plays organ in the latter case. However, the comparisons often wear out, and then new territory is discovered. Dimitiris Bikos on fretless bass excels within improvisational confines, but also feels comfortable when providing the low end along with drummer Vasco Gomes. The brass musicians’ playing is often dense and layered, which is no surprise, considering that there are three of them in the band, plus one of the guest saxophonists appears on most, if not all, of the tracks. Alfonso Munoz is the most impressive of them, particularly when starting on his solo flights. As the recording progresses, the music becomes less intricate (Imperfect Purity, and also the two badly-titled pieces, Angioma and Hemangioma, are particularly representative in this respect), though both of the other semi-epics, Sidewalk Licker and The Sea and Later the Sun and the Reflection, stay not too far from (or, rather, pretty close to) the above three ones, despite the fact that the band at times operates in the realm of ballad-like melodic Jazz Rock. The other tracks are all different in style. Scalpel and Imperfect Persuasive Element never leave the domain of Jazz Rock, mainly brass-driven. The latter tune, the most orchestral in the set, has in places an obvious New Orleans (the city that jazz was born in) big-band feel to it. Pure and Imperfect Art Element begins and unfolds only featuring a male voiceover in Spanish to the ‘accompaniment’ of an alarm-clock. Two minutes later the track takes the shape of space music, but only within its second half does it assume that of a fully-fledged Space Fusion. Finally, Good Luck My Friend and Imperfect Persuasive Element are both brief pieces of quasi-symphonic music for piano.
Conclusion. This 78-minute album proves that its creators are one of the very best bands on the contemporary jazz-rock scene. However, while none of its tracks are weak, it appears as being overextended, a victim of the so-called CD factor to some degree. If only the longer, semi-epic compositions had been used, it would have run for 42+ minutes and would’ve been a masterpiece. In other words, you, fans of the genre, will only win if you get the disc.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 5, 2012
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